Admiral Edward Russell’s Punch (for one)
4 parts of earl grey tea
4 parts any brandy
2 parts lemon juice
1 part sugar syrup
2 parts of Oloroso sherry
Grate in nutmeg to taste
Stir it with ice and strain over ice into a short cup, garnish with berries and you’re ready to party like an Admiral.
In 1600 a group of coffee merchants gathered in London to form the British East India Company, to search the world for the source of nutmeg, at the time the most expensive spice on the planet. Nutmeg was valuable not only as a source of flavour, but it was also believed to protect you from the plague, a fairly large concern in 17th century Europe. A couple of years later the source of Nutmeg was located on a couple of tiny islands in Indonesia, a short 6-month voyage to the far side of the world. Arriving a little later than the Dutch East India Company, it wasn’t the smoothest of landings.
What followed was years of hostilities making the whole expedition seem a little futile, however what the British East India Company did discover on those long voyages was that alcohol made bored, unhappy, mutiny – prone sailors a lot more relaxed, in a way that turned their long 6 months at sea voyages from a vocation a step above galley slaves to more of a pleasure cruise, albeit with terrible dining options, and the constant threat of death by pirate, Hollander or kraken.
Beer stopped being an option pretty quickly as it took up precious space that could be used for a more saleable cargo, so spirits became the drink of choice, and these were served to the crew from giant puncheon barrels, with citrus added to prevent against scurvy, some sugar to make it palatable, and some of those precious spices thrown in to dissuade the crew from theft. Voila! Punch was born.
This was really the first time we saw people mix spirits with other flavours and record the recipe for posterity, essentially the birth of mixed drinks, or cocktails as we know them today.
94 years later Admiral Edward Russell was commanded to remain in Spain over winter to trap the French fleet in the Mediterranean, and he was less than happy to miss Christmas in London, “I am at present under a doubt with myself whether it is not better to die” were his exact words! In order to make a point he petulantly threw the grandest party of the time on Westminster’s account, the focal point of which was a tiled fountain filled with punch, and a small boy in a boat floating in the middle serving it to his guests.
I’m guessing an aptly sized fountain difficult to find in London these days, so a scaled down ‘punch for one’ is a better recipe…